February 29, 2012
During my last trip to the grocery store, I chucked a bag of dried green lentils into my shopping cart. Not that I had any specific ideas about what to do with them. Flipping through my cookbooks, there was a noticeable lack of lentil-centric dishes outside of the old-standby lentil soup recipe that I’m guessing every general cookbook is obligated to carry. And really, if the little green pulses in my pantry were capable of thoughts and feelings, they might have an existential crisis upon thinking that they were predestined for one thing and one thing only. I won’t suffer neurotic legumes, so to spare them distress and spare me culinary monotony, I found five ways to work with lentils.
1. Use them in a soup. It’s an old standby for a reason: It’s just flat-out good, especially on a cold day. The classic iteration usually combines lentils with root vegetables—but the fun thing about making soup is playing around with the ingredients. Try different varieties of lentils—such as red for a Moroccan version of the soup—or add in meat, seafood or some of your favorite small pasta.
2. Use them in fillings. This is how I’ve usually worked with lentils in a non-soup setting. Spiced and mixed with tomatoes and tofu, they help make for a great meatless burrito filling. Yellow lentils with other legumes make for delicious-looking stuffed capsicum. You can also use them for snack foods like paratha, an Indian flat bread that is stuffed and topped with yogurt and chutney, or samosas, deep-fried pastry shells with savory fillings.
3. Toss them. No, not out of your kitchen, but rather use lentils in your salads either as a sidekick to other veggies—such as wild rice, squash and bulgur—or enjoy them on their own merits with a bit of oil and vinegar.
5. Use them for sweets. Don’t think that lentils are strictly for savory dishes—they have a place (albeit a small one) at the dessert table. Combine with oats, spices and dried fruits to whip up a batch of cookies, or use the red variety to make a rosy pudding for a breakfast or after dinner treat. You can even use them in pies, combining lentils with nuts, apples or even just a little vanilla extract and sugar to create fiber-rich fillings.
December 2, 2011
The first time I tried a persimmon was a few years ago. I spotted the attractive fruit at the supermarket, and its smooth skin and deep orange color tempted me to buy one. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that the variety of persimmon I bought—hachiya—shouldn’t be eaten until it is extremely ripe. It tasted like industrial-strength cleaner. Since then, I’ve learned that fuyus, which are short and squat, are the variety to buy for eating fresh; pointy-bottomed hachiyas are better for baking.
Fuyus have a pleasantly firm, mango-like flesh. The most similar flavor I can think of is papaya—sweet, but not overly so, with a hint of floral or spicy tones. Both fuyus and hachiyas are usually available in late fall and early winter. Here are a few ways to use either variety:
1. In a salad. Despite originating thousands of miles apart, persimmons (from East Asia) and pomegranates (from the Middle East) harmonize nicely—both flavor-wise and visually—in a fall/winter fruit salad. For an even more colorful (and very nutritious) dish, toss them with sliced red cabbage, Romaine lettuce, Asian pear, hazelnuts and gorgonzola cheese, as in the Rainbow Chopped Salad from Epicurious.
2. As a condiment or accompaniment. Organic Authority suggests serving a fresh persimmon salsa with grilled fish or chicken. Or it can be cooked into a spicy chutney with apples and raisins, as Moscovore recommends. Firm fuyus can also be sliced and roasted to be served as a sweet/savory side dish, as in this recipe from About.com.
3. Dried. Hoshigaki, or dried persimmons, are a popular treat in Japan, where they are made through a labor-intensive process you’re unlikely to want to replicate at home. But even the shortcut method you can make in your oven—like this recipe from Martha Stewart—produces a yummy (albeit very different, I’m sure) snack.
4. In a drink. Just because I’m teetotaling for the next few months doesn’t mean you have to. Imbibe magazine’s recipe for a persimmon margarita rimmed with cinnamon salt is a novel twist on one of my favorite cocktails. On the nonalcoholic side, 101 Asian Recipes explains how to make a Korean persimmon tea.
5. In dessert. Nicole of Pinch My Salt shares her grandma’s recipe for sweet, moist persimmon cookies. And I would like to be in Denise’s Kitchen next time she makes this delicious-looking fuyu persimmon, pear and walnut rolled tart. Having spent only one very rainy day of my life in Indiana (on the interstate en route from Nashville to Chicago), I was unaware that persimmon pudding was a traditional regional food there. Joy the Baker explains how it’s made (including how to wheedle the fruits from your neighbor), describing the result as “sweet and super moist bread pudding meets spice cake.” Sounds good to me.
November 2, 2011
After potatoes, perhaps no vegetable has kept more bellies full in more places through winter than cabbage. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s available long after a lot of other vegetables have gone into hibernation.
It’s also versatile and is found in cuisines that span the globe. Whether green, red, savoy or napa, here are a few ideas to keep you inspired through spring.
1. Stuff it. Nearly every country between Poland and Lebanon has its own version of stuffed cabbage rolls, each a little different. In Hungary, they’re called Töltött Káposzta and might be stuffed with ground pork and served with sauerkraut, paprika and sour cream. In the Arab countries of the eastern Mediterranean, they’re called Mahshi Malfuf; they’re stuffed with ground lamb and rice and flavored with allspice, cinnamon, garlic and lemon juice. The ones my mom used to make were probably of Polish-Jewish origin, stuffed with ground beef and cooked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce, similar to this version of Holishkes from Epicurious. For a vegetarian take, this Russian recipe stuffed with apples, dried apricots, raisins and spinach and served with sour cream sounds interesting.
2. Stock your soup. I can’t condone eating cabbage soup every day, as one of the crazier (and most intestinally distressing) fad diets has suggested, but the ingredient does deserve a place in your soup repertoire. I like to add shredded napa cabbage, which has thin, frilly leaves, to minestrone soup; this version, from Food52, includes zucchini and green beans, but you could easily substitute fall and winter vegetables. A simple German soup, from Teri’s Kitchen, combines shredded cabbage with onions, rice, nutmeg and a garnish of shredded Swiss cheese. And for a recipe that is defiantly not on the cabbage soup diet, try Closet Cooking’s creamy cabbage and double-smoked bacon soup, which also includes sausage and grainy mustard.
3. Fry it. My favorite way to prepare cabbage is probably to stir-fry it—it’s not mushy or limp, as it can get when boiled, and it’s not dry and starchy, as it sometimes tastes when raw. Plus, it absorbs flavors perfectly—from a simple Chinese-style soy sauce, garlic and ginger mixture to a complex, Indian-spiced dish with potatoes, Aloo Patta Gobhi Sabzi. Or go soul food–style, frying up some cabbage with bacon, garlic and crushed red pepper.
4. Shred it. Slaws are usually thought of as a summer side dish, but they also make a good stand-in for green salads in the colder months. I Really Like Food suggests adding apple, celery, red bell pepper and autumn spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves for a seasonal twist on cole slaw. And, as a transplanted Southern Californian, sometimes I’ve gotta have my fish taco fix, which wouldn’t be complete without a little shredded cabbage and lime juice—like these ones from Koko Likes.
5. Pickle or ferment it. Germans and Koreans independently came up with the idea to ferment cabbage, with very different but equally delicious results. If you’re ambitious—and patient—you could try making your own sauerkraut or kimchi. Or you can do the shortcut version of either, though they will have a less pungent flavor: A quick kimchi recipe on Epicurious takes only 3 1/2 hours to pickle, rather than days, and Brian Boitano (yes—the figure skater—he now has a show on the Food Channel) improvises a quick sauerkraut to serve with Schnitzel by cooking shredded cabbage with German beer, vinegar and mustard seeds.
October 4, 2011
With autumn in the air, we will inevitably see a sudden wealth of goods on store shelves and out at eateries flavored with that seminal, seasonal squash: pumpkin. And with Halloween just around the corner, you will also probably see bins full of the brightly-colored squash at your local supermarkets. First off, there’s a difference between pumpkins for carving and pumpkins for eating. Small, thin-skinned varieties are generally cultivated for consumption while the carving pumpkins are fairly bland. Then there are those monster-sized pumpkins that are bred for vegetable-growing competitions and would be kinda scary to try to work with in the kitchen. With some weighing in at some 1,500 pounds, one wrong slice and I’d fear being squashed by a squash. But though we mainly turn to pumpkins for pie-making purposes, the vegetable is much more versatile. So perhaps it’s time to think outside the pie crust and consider other ways you can put pumpkin on your table.
For most recipes, like soups and breads, a can of pumpkin puree should do you just fine and it’s a product that should be readily available at your grocery store next to the cans of pumpkin pie filling. You may have to hunt around a bit if you’re bent on using food-grade pumpkins hot off the vine, but there are a few varieties you can keep an eye out for.
Pumpkin Seeds: These are the only parts of your jack-o-lantern that you should consider eating. While you should totally toss the stringy squash intestines, the seeds are quite tasty once cleaned, dried, hulled, seasoned and toasted. These are great on their own as a snack, or you can use them to dress up salads or an autumnal trail mix.
Dips and Spreads: Looking for another pumpkin-centric snack or appetizer? Puree the meat with seeds and cashews, or pair it with cream cheese for something a little sweeter. You can also create a pumpkin-y spin on hummus, that traditional Middle Eastern chickpea spread.
Soups: Pumpkin can be used on its own to make a soup, or it can be paired with other seasonal veggies—such as potatoes and turnips—to make a hot and hearty meal on a cool evening. And what could be easier that popping prepped veggies in a pot, cooking them down and then pureeing everything? I personally have tried the combination of pumpkin and peanut butter in a recipe from the New Basics Cookbook, which was a sweet and savory soup. (Though I might try organic peanut butter, or something with reduced sugar the next time I make this.) If you’re hankering for stew, you can always throw a few cubes of pumpkin into the pot.
Stuffed: It’s true—a hollowed-out pumpkin can hold more than a candle. In French cooking, pumpkins are used more in savory dishes, such as stuffed pumpkin. Packed with bread, cheese, garlic and herbs and cooked until you can easily pierce the skin, this can make a hearty dinner. But also explore other combinations of ingredients to use, which can be completely vegetarian, use a combination of meats that will pique the appetite of the carnivores around your table or even use dried fruits if you’re in the mood for something sweeter.
Breads: Looking for a pumpkin dessert alternative that doesn’t involve a custard filling? Pumpkin can also be used in spiced breads, a slice of which can be a great finish to a meal. Or, with the aid of some cream cheese filling, enjoy a decadent sandwich to sate the sweet tooth. But you can also go the savory route and make breads to complement your dinner course. In lieu of nutmeg and cinnamon, spice up your pumpkin puree with herbs like chive, basil and coriander, try flatbreads that pair pumpkin with onion, or even go for a simple variation on potato rolls (just sub in squash for your starchy, mashed tubers).
September 23, 2011
I think I’ve known one person in my entire life who actually drinks straight-up buttermilk as a beverage. Something about a sour-tasting dairy drink is low on appeal for most Americans. (However, it should be noted that other nationalities have similar cultured dairy beverages that are very popular.) But, oh, the things it can do to in tandem with other ingredients.
Today’s buttermilk is really fermented milk, different from the byproduct of butter-churning from olden days. Because it contains high amounts of lactic acid, buttermilk is excellent at helping baked goods rise and at tenderizing meat, not to mention adding tangy flavor to other recipes. The problem is that it always seems to be sold in a larger quantity than any one recipe calls for. And, although it has a fairly long shelf life, it’s always a challenge to find enough uses for the remainder before it goes to waste. Here are a few ideas to help make full use of your next quart.
1. Marinate meats. According to Fine Cooking magazine, buttermilk and yogurt are the only marinades that truly work to tenderize meat. Vinegar-based marinades are too acidic and could actually make meat tougher, while for some reason—possibly the calcium—the only slightly acidic buttermilk seems to stimulate the breakdown of proteins. However it works, it’s especially good with chicken, whether grilled (as in this simple marinade from Cheeky Kitchen) or fried (like this double-dipped version from Epicurious).
2. Add low-fat creaminess. Low-fat buttermilk is creamier and more flavorful than regular low-fat milk, so it’s perfect for mashed potatoes (this herbed recipe from Dash and Bella also contains butter, but it sure sounds good); creamy soups, like a buttermilk summer squash soup from 101 Cookbooks; or sauces, like Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s fish poached in buttermilk, from the New York Times.
3. Cook up breakfast. Some of the best morning foods are even better with buttermilk. It makes for fluffy pancakes, crispy outside/soft inside waffles (so says Smitten Kitchen), and rich scones (these lemon-blueberry buttermilk scones from Sing For Your Supper sound delicious).
4. Bake some bread. Buttermilk’s slight acidity helps activate baking soda and make bread rise. It’s the traditional liquid used in Irish soda bread. Oatmeal buttermilk bread gets high marks from Clockwork Lemon. And chances are good Grandma’s delicious, flaky biscuits were made with buttermilk. Sweet breads also get low-fat moistness from buttermilk, as in this banana-blueberry buttermilk bread from Eating Well magazine.
5. Save room for dessert. The same moistness also does wonders for cake, whether Bon Appétit magazine’s blackberry buttermilk cake or what the Pioneer Woman calls the best chocolate sheet cake. Ever. And don’t forget the Southern specialty, sweet, custardy buttermilk pie; Homesick Texan shares her Grandma Blanche’s recipe, which you just know has to be good.